Monthly Archives: March 2010

Licensing of Modified Virgin Coconut Oil in Malaysia

The National Partners Initiative (NPI) of CAS-IP is publishing 5 working papers from 5 Agricultural Research Institutions in developing countries.  These case studies aim to share country experiences from developing countries in the areas surrounding IP policy making, policy implementation and use of IPRs by researchers for leveraging more benefits to the stakeholders, people, institutions and countries. The results of the five studies have been prepared as five working papers.

The first one from MARDI in Malaysia is entitled: “Pre-Commercialisation and Licensing of Modified Virgin Coconut Oil” written by Guat Hong Teh (CAS-IP) and Rafeah A. Rahman (MARDI).

Commercialisation of publicly-funded research in Malaysia is low. Studies have shown that a complex interaction of policy direction, funding mechanism, innovation structure, diffusion mechanisms and manpower availability is necessary to increase the interaction between public research institutes, universities and the private sector, in order to bring research to market. In this paper, the authors showcase a recently patented product known as modified virgin coconut oil and how the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) has been able to up-scale its production and licence the technology to two private companies. Factors leading to its success include the newly-launched TechnoFund scheme by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI); the selection of the right private sector partners and the building of trust and confidence between them; an extremely dedicated and proactive inventor who is business savvy; and the internal MARDI support to research staff for IP management and business development needs.

The paper concludes by looking into further steps that MARDI can take to exploit the potential of this technology, investments that it should continue to make for augmenting its current internal skill sets, and a recommendation to consider the pros and cons of future models of collaboration with the private sector.

The full text can be viewed HERE.

Post written by Karine Malgrand    , Facilitator of the National Partners Initiative for CAS-IP

A Snapshot Guide to Intellectual Property (IP) Systems in countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America

From Benin to Thailand, Burkina Faso to Tanzania – the National Partners Initiative (the NPI, launched and coordinated by CAS-IP) has produced a unique collection of “insiders’ info” about the IP systems of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Please note the disclaimer that this compendium is not an official representation for these IP systems. However, links are provided so that the proper governmental offices can be contacted.

You can view the publication posted on the CAS-IP slideshare site by clicking on the image.  This document is a first draft and the group will update over time.  However, such a wealth of information should be shared – so please forward this link to whoever you feel might benefit from the information!

Victoria Henson-Apollonio, Manager of CAS-IP introduced the paper as follows:

Those of us that work in the area of intellectual property (IP) often long to find sources that cover a collection of information where it is easy to find what we want, is dependable, and is concise. This Compendium is that sort of work, (that we hope to update on an annual basis). The IP systems of thirteen countries located in Asia, Africa and Latin America are briefly described, with a chapter on the European and U.S. system for comparative purposes. Links for official governmental (on-line) sites are provided for those that need official information. It represents the work of members of the National Partners Initiative (NPI), a community of intellectual property (IP) practitioners. The NPI is supported by its members and the funding generosity provided by the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), through the CGIAR-Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP).

CAS-IP launched the National Partners Initiative in 2007.  Since then this group of international IP practitioners has met twice a year to share experiences and leverage one another’s knowledge.  Again, special thanks to DGIS who provided the financial support to make this initiative possible.  Below is the most recent photo of the group taken at the skills workshop that took place earlier this year.

Building Negotiation Skills Workshop & Interim National Partners Initiative Meeting

The British Council’s Copyright 2010 project

On April 9th the British Council is hosting an event at which a wide range of speakers will discuss new ideas and proposals for the future evolution of copyright to mark the week when the world’s first copyright act came into force 300 years ago.

The British Council’s primary goal is:

Connecting the UK to the world and the world to the UK, the British Council is Britain’s international cultural relations body…  In an inter-dependent, turbulent world we believe that creating opportunities for people to understand each other better, work together more and learn from one another is crucial to building secure, more prosperous and sustainable futures for us all.

You can visit their web site at: http://www.britishcouncil.org

According to the organizers of this event (one of whom is John Howkins – see the review of his new book at https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/creative-ecologies-where-thinking-is-a-proper-job):

The copyright act set out rules for the encouragement of learning, and established the principles of public interest, access and exclusivity that govern copyright today. This forum explores the question: “If copyright hadn’t been invented, what kind of copyright would we want…

CAS-IP was invited to submit a 500 word contribution to the discussion and you can download this at link.

Francesca Re Manning, the lead contributor to our submission, will (we hope!) be able to attend the event and she will no doubt write about what happens.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

The Improved Maize for African Soils Project and their royalty-free varieties

SciDevNet’s Sub-Saharan Africa news in brief: 25 February–10 March 2010 posted a link to CIMMYT about the launch in Feb 2010 of the Improved Maize for African Soils Project (IMAS).

“IMAS is being led by CIMMYT and funded with USD 19.5 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. The project’s other partners—the DuPont Business, Pioneer Hi-Bred; the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI); and the South African Agricultural Research Council (ARC)—are also providing significant in-kind contributions including staff, infrastructure, seed, traits, technology, training, and know-how.”

The project is interesting for many reasons, but being the CAS-IP blog the following “IP-bit” was what caught my attention:

“The varieties developed will be made available royalty-free to seed companies that sell to the region’s smallholder farmers, meaning that the seed will become available to farmers at the same cost as other types of improved maize seed.”

The Executive Summary for the project provides some further details (see link on the bottom right of the page):

“The project will rely on local seed companies to produce and distribute seed of hybrids, and on NGOs supplying seed aid and government input subsidy programs, which often subcontract production to seed companies, to produce seed of OPVs. … Under commercial licensing arrangements in eastern and southern Africa, seed companies distributing IMAS varieties will only receive a license provided that they sell the seed at the same price as non-transgenic seed. CIMMYT will ensure that sufficient quantities of breeder seed would be produced to serve the needs of seed producers.”

Thanks to Carolina Roa for pointing me in the direction of the information I was looking for.

Seed InfoTech: Critical data on seed soon to be available in Malawi

As part of our market development support for ICRISAT’s seed sector mission, I have visited eight countries in Africa over the last year and talked to farmers, agrodealers and seed companies.  In every case, complaints have been leveled at the seed certification process – too slow, inefficient, no data.  In most cases, no information was available on how much land was being used to grow seed, or how this broke down between crops.  Last October, after meeting with staff at the Seed Services Unit (SSU) in Lilongwe, it became apparent that “carbon paper” record-keeping was a significant factor and that the right software could probably make a big difference.

The outcome of this investigation was that I recently met Gerard Sylvester, an ICRISAT systems analyst from Hyderabad, in Malawi.  After mapping the various tasks which are managed by SSU, he was in agreement that the right software could indeed increase SSU’s efficiency significantly. Irish Aid agreed to fund the development of a database application.  The first module will be completed by July;  it will address land registration and will enable SSU to start analyzing valuable data on land usage and seed crops.  This data will inform other interventions that ICRISAT and others are engaged in implementing.

As I have talked before about this kind of intervention (grassroots driven, low cost, scaleable), here are the steps:

  1. Grassroots feedback indicates that seed certification is inefficient; there are bottlenecks which in some cases have resulted in a shortage of certified seed (e.g., rice in Northern Senegal, 2009).
  2. An intervention – in this case software – is designed.  Organizations involved with or with an interest in seed certification are consulted, and the feedback is positive.
  3. A modest investment is provided to develop the first database module.
  4. If the first module has a positive impact on the roadblocks, we will again seek feedback on how we propose to develop the capabilities of the database.
  5. After at least six months of real-world testing, the software will then be made available to SSUs in other countries.  Funding will be secured for translations into other languages as the need arises, and for training.  TOSCI (Tanzania Official Seed Multiplication Institute), the certifying agency in Tanzania, has been collecting data and has expressed strong interest in the database.

The next step will most likely be a module to track the rest of the certification process.  One of the features we will discuss in the future is a learning module to enable inspectors to update their skills and their knowledge on a regular basis.  Other developments might include wireless devices for data entry and farmer queries from cell phones.  And, at the appropriate time, we will discuss if and how to measure the economic impact of the project.

In fact, this is a “sub-program” of the Irish Aid-supported Malawi Seed Industry Development Project that is already incubating at least three other interventions (genetic markers, localized seed production, umbrella brand) that satisfy the criteria.  But you cannot predict what you will find out three months after the budget has been finalized by the donor; some budget flexibility is necessary to enable these kinds of “rapid responses”, and Irish Aid has been open to this when something new supports their overall mission.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Necessary piracy?

A recent New York Times article talks about “copycatting” in the fashion industry.  (N.B. This kind of copying is not counterfeiting, as only the design is copied and not the label.)

“Rather than harming originators, as piracy is supposed to do, in the fashion context it often helps them.”

So, here we have an example where copying without citation is not only accepted by an industry, it is even considered key to keeping that industry alive.  The world is not black and white!


Monsanto Technology, the European Court of Justice and Roundup Ready Soybean

This is a continuation of a saga involving Monsanto and the scope of their European patent for Roundup Ready soybeans.  Full details of this saga can be found on the links in this post but, in a nutshell from the IPKat:

“Argentina, the world’s third-biggest soybean exporter after Brazil and the US, is one of the few countries where Monsanto does not hold a patent on the herbicide-resistant seeds. However, a ruling that Monsanto’s European patent is enforceable would let it block those imports.”

Read the full article from IPKat, “Soy far, soy good” for Argentine importers” including the European Court of Justice AG’s (Advocate General) Opinion (in French with an interpretation).

The Bloomberg article (referenced by IPKat) “Monsanto May Lose Bid to Halt Argentinean Soy Imports (Update2)” said:

“The European patent for the trait that makes soybeans resistant to some herbicides doesn’t extend to soy meal made from the patented seeds, Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi of the European Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion today….

…Monsanto said it was “disappointed” by today’s outcome and will wait for the court’s final decision. Rulings tend to follow within six months of an opinion.”

We’ll be revisiting this news within 6 months then!

“IP Litigation in Africa”

IP Litigation in Africa” was an item in the WIPO magazine from February this year.  It includes highlights from IP disputes that have recently taken place Africa.  In the introduction Darren Olivier (co-founder of Afro-IP blog) says:

“IP dispute resolution is alive and well in most economically vibrant economies on the continent”

Examples are from Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria and deal with patent, trademark and copyright cases.  We often read about lack of enforcement in the region, so it’s very welcome to see an article of this kind!

Doors open to GMOs in Europe?

On Tuesday 2 March the European Commission has given its approval that Amflora, a genetically modified potato, can be cultivated in Europe.  The decision marks the end of a twelve year embargo on cultivation of all GMOs within the EU.  It is also the end of Monsanto’s monopoly in this area, as it is BASF, a German-owned company, that will produce this potato variety. As Amflora will not be used for human consumption but only for the manufacture of glues, this decision also represents Europe’s opening to an industrial agricultural market.  The benefits seem clear, in particular the decrease of synthetic glues which can be environmentally harmful.

Will this decision open the doors to the cultivation of other types of GMO crops? I believe that any such change ought to be gradual and decisions must be taken only on a case-by-case basis after having evaluated a series of factors, including the interests of end-users and farmers, and the safeguarding of the environment and human health.  However, Europe should not remain outside of this market but get fully involved so that it can decide and impose its own safety standards both on biosafety and industrial production.

Italy and Austria have already said NO to it. It will be interesting to see the rest of Europe’s reactions then, given the public distrust of GMO technology.

Post details from article on Corriere.it (in Italian)

Post written by Francesca Re Manning, consultant to CAS-IP

Genetic markers for seed purity

ICRISAT, with the support of Irish Aid, is taking a comprehensive approach to seed sector development.  My recent post on Tanzania identified poor quality foundation seed as a significant factor in the supply chain.

Recently, I met ICRISAT Biotechnology scientist Santie de Villiers in Nairobi.  She is leading the development of a genetic fingerprinting initiative as part of the ICRISAT-Irish Aid Malawi project.  When she told me about her work, I asked her if she would write something for us.  This is what she sent (thanks, Santie!):

When crops are sold as seed, it is very difficult to differentiate seed from grain.  This is problematic since seed has  to be of high quality and genetically “true to type” to ensure that farmers achieve good yields. To test seed purity conventionally, seed samples are drawn from seed lots and grown out so that the morphological features of the plants can be compared against a set of descriptors. But this takes time and is expensive.

Alternatively, similar samples of seeds drawn from lots can be tested for purity by using a small set of molecular markers that can “genetically fingerprint” varieties. Such markers can be used directly on the seeds or on very small seedlings, and can therefore be applied at any time of the year. There is no need to grow plants to maturity to tell whether they are true to type. This method is not only quicker but also cheaper and can be done anywhere in the world where the appropriate technology exists. A farmer, breeder or seed company can send a few seeds to be analyzed for a small fee per sample and the results will be available within a few weeks, compared to a full growth season for conventional purity testing.

In a project funded by Irish Aid in Malawi, ICRISAT is now testing available molecular markers to determine which are suitable to use for genetic fingerprinting of groundnut and pigeon pea .  This will assist both breeders and seed regulatory agencies in ensuring that seed quality standards are maintained through maintenance breeding.

This is a modest intervention – relatively inexpensive, and launched in response to observed needs “on the ground”.  The outputs of this research are scaleable – the technology can easily be made available in other countries.  At this time of increased need to address food security with limited funding, this is one of several models which have been incubated by the ICRISAT-Irish Aid Malawi project.  I’ll be writing a post on a comparable software project in the near future. These are what I’d describe as smart investments in scaleable, need-driven interventions.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP